Albemarle County Planning Commission

November 7, 2006

 

The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a work session on Tuesday, November 7, 2006, at 6:00 p.m., at the County Office Building Auditorium, Second Floor, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia. Members attending were Eric Strucko, Calvin Morris, Vice-Chairman; Jon Cannon, Marcia Joseph, Chairman and Bill Edgerton. Absent were Duane Zobrist and Pete Craddock.  Julia Monteith, Senior Land Use Planner for the University of Virginia, representative for David J. Neuman, FAIA, Architect for University of Virginia was absent. 

 

Other officials present were Wayne Cilimberg, Planning Director; David Benish, Chief of Planning; Rebecca Ragsdale, Senior Planner and Greg Kamptner, Deputy County Attorney.

 

Call to Order and Establish Quorum:

 

Ms. Joseph called the regular meeting to order at 4:11 p.m. and established a quorum.

 

            Work Session:

 

ZMA 2006-014 Professional Office Building at Hydraulic & Georgetown Roads (Signs #58 & #65)

PROPOSAL:  Rezone 1.051  acres from C-1 Commercial zoning district which allows retail sales and service uses; and residential use by special use permit (15 units/ acre) to NMD Neighborhood Model District zoning district which allows residential (3 - 34 units/acre) mixed with commercial, service and industrial uses. Approx.13,000 sq. ft. of office uses.

PROFFERS:  No

EXISTING COMPREHENSIVE PLAN LAND USE/DENSITY: Rural Areas - preserve and protect agricultural, forestal, open space, and natural, historic and scenic resources/ density (.5  unit/acre)

ENTRANCE CORRIDOR: Yes

LOCATION: Southwest corner of Georgetown/Hydraulic Roads intersection.

TAX MAP/PARCEL: 60F/3

MAGISTERIAL DISTRICT: Jack Jouett

STAFF:  Claudette Grant

 

Ms. Grant summarized the staff report.

 

·         The applicant is requesting a rezoning from C-1, Commercial to Neighborhood Model District.  The Neighborhood Model District supports buildings located closer to the street.  The applicant has stated that reducing the size of the building below 12,000 square feet become financially difficult.  The staff report describes some options regarding these issues and concerns.  There are also other issues to be resolved.  However, staff is in need of direction from the Commission before the applicant proceeds further revising the plan.

 

Ms. Joseph asked if there were questions for staff.

 

Mr. Edgerton asked if the sheet dated March 31, 1997 was a vested plan.  He asked if this can be done by right tomorrow.

 

Ms. Grant replied that it is an approved plan.

 

Mr. Edgerton questioned if the applicant could come in and get a building permit on this plan as shown.

 

Mr. Cilimberg replied that is a zoning question that he was not sure he could answer.  Zoning would determine the vesting of a site plan based on what progress has been made on that plan.  There has not been any activity out there to develop under the plan.  He asked Ms. Grant if she had asked zoning if the plan was vested.

 

Ms. Grant replied that she did not asked zoning.

 

Mr. Cilimberg noted that they would have to get that answer.

 

Mr. Edgerton noted that he wanted to make sure that they understood what the applicant’s options were.

 

Mr. Cannon said that it was approved as a site plan.

 

Mr. Edgerton said this plan is consistent with the zoning that exists on the property.

 

Mr. Cilimberg replied that the site plan that was approved was consistent with the zoning that existed.

 

Ms. Joseph noted that a site plan was good for five years after approval.

 

Mr. Edgerton noted that it has been nine years.

 

Ms. Joseph said that the reason that they were here was that they were trying to sort out the difference between what went on with the ARB and what the applicant wants.

 

Ms. Grant replied that was correct.

 

Ms. Joseph pointed out that there was a member of the ARB present.  She asked if the applicant would like to give a presentation at this point.

 

Gate Pratt, with Gateland Architects, said that he was representing the applicant CKW II.  Also present is Tom Muncaster who is our civil engineer. The Commission has seen this project once before and gave some feedback on it.  Generally the Commission was supportive in the direction that they were going.  They would like to put a two-story office building towards the front of the site and relegate the parking.  That was the general concept.  In the details is where it gets tricky because the site is fairly tight.  To get the size office building that they need to get for the economics of the project requires a certain amount of parking, which is also a little challenging.  When they went to the ARB to discuss the specifics of the site they suggested that they push the building back 10’ from the property line.  If they were to do that they run into some issue with pushing the parking back and getting a little further into the steep slopes, which is an area that they would like to avoid if possible.  Generally it is complicated on this particular site. 

 

Mr. Pratt continued that with regards to the two points that the ARB commented on asking for the setback, they would ask the Commission if they would encourage some permission to proceed with a minimal setback.  He noted that there was approximately 15’ of right-of-way that was currently asphalt and sidewalk between their property lines.  They have a 6’ sidewalk and a 9’ asphalt sidewalk that currently exists.  They are proposing to set the building 3’ back from the property line.  They could design that area of the right-of-way anyway that was seen as appropriate.  It could be paved and landscaped with street trees, which is one possibility.  The request for street trees was there from the ARB.  It could also be more of a green buffer depending on what is appropriate at that corner.  They are seeing this as an urban corner.  They want the building to address the streets. He did not think that they needed to completely hide it behind landscaping.  It could be paved and landscaped with street trees.  The request for street trees was there from the ARB.  It also could be more of a green buffer depending on what is appropriate at that corner.  They are seeing this as an urban corner.  They want the building to address the street.  He did not think that they necessarily need to completely hide it behind the landscaping and they certainly have a large area that they can work with if it was acceptable in the right-of-way. That would prevent them having to push the building further back from their property line, thus pushing the parking back into the slopes.  Regarding the size of the building it is more at this point an issue of economics of the site.  They are trying to hold the size of the building to around 12,000 square feet in order to make the financing of the project work.  There is a scheme that allows them to put the building behind the parking and they get roughly 50 to 53 parking spaces, which is more than they need.  But, they think that the overall result is not as nice in terms of how the building addresses the street.  Those are the 2 issues that were brought up by the ARB.  They are asking tonight to hold to the original scheme presented that show the building 3’ off of the property line, but in effect 18’ from the paving.  They would like to keep the building essentially the same size.  But, in order to do that they would have to get some parking on the lower level.  There would be access from an adjacent property owner’s parking and access area.  They have indicated that would be acceptable to them.  They are showing 2 options on how that would be laid out. 

 

Ms. Joseph invited public comment.

 

Candace Smith, Chair of the Architectural Review Board, said that the when the ARB initially reviewed the project everybody’s sentiment was that they would rather have an office building than a parking lot with a gas station.  That was emphasized in the last sentence of their comments to the Planning Commission.  However, when they looked at the plan because of the conceptual stage and they overlaid it with the plan that had been approved for the gas station because of the on flat parking at that grade level for the first floor entry of this office building in the back they would actually look like it would be even more grading into the critical slopes, particularly where they are showing an entrance off of Georgetown Road.  They were told that they would not be allowed to have the entrance off Georgetown Road either from VDOT or engineering.  They were asked to look at something that might not be allowed.  But, the parking and that driveway even in the small illustration exceeds the grading that was put up for the gas station, which would have left very, very steep slopes at the back of the site. All of that is a product of the size of the building, which forces the size of the parking lot.  When they discussed this with the applicant they understood that and were certainly interested in a smaller building. Obviously, they have done some number crunching and now say that to make it feasible to building that kind of office building they need 12,000 square feet.  Even 12,000 square feet is better than the 13,000 square feet that is being proposed.  That would allow for some of the setback of the building to the street.  The ARB looked at the context of the apartment buildings on one side and the other buildings shown on the site plan and look at the relationship of the building to the street.  They were not trying to make it rural, but they don’t feel that it is nearly as urban as what is going to be happening at Albemarle Place at Hydraulic and Route 29.  They feel that the discussion of sidewalks and tree planting off of their property is very uncomfortable for the ARB because it is not on their property.  If they are allowed a 3’ setback from their property line there are not going to be any trees or shrubbery or sidewalks in that space.   The most important element that the ARB wanted to emphasize about the setback was that they wanted 10’ to 15’ free of utilities.  The current site plan does show utilities in those areas.  So there were a number of undecided issues including the entrance off of Georgetown that forced far more grading into the back trees and slopes that was going to clear and present a very different back of the building.  The buildings adjacent to it have a forest appearance to them.  It seemed that a lot of the pressures would be relieved by a smaller building and less parking and they would get the needed landscape in front.  They could then proceed to address the building design that has its own concerns in terms of addressing the corner.  The ARB was in favor of the concept, but felt that it was really going to force them into not being able to approve the building.  The ARB did not want them to get that far and then have to appeal their decision.

 

Ms. Joseph disagreed.  She felt that a 10’ – 15’ setback is more of a suburban look than they want in their urban areas.  Even though they are looking at what is happening out there, that is not the model that they want to set.  She was not sure if 3’ was the answer because there have to be trees out there, too, so that they can be graded and within a sidewalk.  It could be a larger sidewalk than normal, but she felt that because they were trying to implement the Neighborhood Model and to use the space as efficiently as they possibly can in the urban area she felt that asking for 10’ to 15’ of green space is not sending the signal that they want to see in the Neighborhood Model.

 

Mr. Morris noted that initially the Commission felt that 18’ was plenty of distance, but the ARB is absolutely right that you can’t plant in 15’ – 16’ in those places that the property line is set back at that particular point.  They need to get the trees in.

 

Ms. Joseph noted that sometimes trees are located in the VDOT right-of-way.  The trees have to be there.  She questioned if they put sidewalks in the right-of-way.

 

Mr. Cilimberg replied generally yes, they want the public sidewalks in the public right-of-way.

 

Mr. Cannon noted the size increase from 1,200 square feet to 1,300 square feet.  He suggested that there might be some negotiations in the size.  They have a building that has to be situated on a particular size lot. The question is whether they put it close to a street with some potential screening or do they push it back and create more disturbances on the critical slopes. 

 

Ms. Joseph hoped that the building would be beautiful and not need to be screened.

 

Mr. Morris noted that if something could be worked out with VDOT so that the asphalt strip could be used for planting it would be wonderful.  Then they would be 18’ back from the edge of the road.  That is a great start.

 

Mr. Edgerton said that he did not know what flexibility that VDOT would allow them since it was their right-of-way.  He would like to see the building set back a bit further and a comfortable row of street trees along the edge of Hydraulic Road and a sidewalk behind it so that there is some true separation between the heavy traffic on Hydraulic and Georgetown Roads.  He would like the pedestrian circulation on that sidewalk separated by a row of street trees.  He felt that VDOT had some problems with that, or at least they had heard that.  He supported it being a green building.  He felt that the problem could be solved with the adjustment of the design.  He was sympathetic to the ARB’s design about it being a bit too close. He felt that 3’ was too little.  He would like to see it moved back a little bit.  It could be accomplished with perhaps a reconfiguration of the parking area to get nearly half of the parking under the back half of the buildings.  Therefore, it would minimize how far they would have to go back into the critical slopes. 

 

Mr. Strucko noted that he was more inclined in bringing the buildings up closer to Georgetown and Hydraulic Roads maintaining that parking area in a location that is not going to impact the critical slopes and the buffer between this use and Georgetown Green to the rear.  He was confused about the actual number of feet involved.

 

Ms. Joseph noted that one of the things Mr. Edgerton said was that he wanted street trees between the road way and the sidewalk. In this illustration it is the opposite. 

 

Mr. Edgerton noted that our urban cross section shows the street trees separating the vehicular traffic from the pedestrian traffic.  If that can be accomplished and if VDOT will go along with it, he would be comfortable in using their space to do that.  He was looking for a way to get some real separation from a really busy road for the pedestrian access.

 

Mr. Strucko said that the rear of the site was his greatest concern with Georgetown Green and the disturbance of the critical slopes.  He was not necessarily concerned with a green buffer between the pedestrian pathway and the building itself because of the urban nature of the area.  In order to have compatibility between the two uses there has to be some buffer.  He was concerned if the building were pushed back that it might compromise that.  He was not concerned with the aesthetics, but was concerned with the scale and the nature of the corner.  It is a busy intersection.

 

The Planning Commission discussed the issues and provided comments as noted in the following summary.

 

In summary, the Planning Commission held a work session on ZMA-2006-014, Professional Office Building at Hydraulic & Georgetown Roads with a focus on staff and the applicant obtaining the Planning Commission’s guidance regarding the location of the building and the size of the building before proceeding with plans for the building.

 

After the pre-application work session in June, the applicant decided to proceed with a two story, 13,000 square foot professional office building.  As discussed during the previous work session, the applicant also decided to request a rezoning for Neighborhood Model District primarily because of the flexibility in setback requirements. Both the Commission and the ARB agreed that the proposed office use is less intensive and more appropriate than the permitted use for a gas station/convenience store.

 

The applicant still has a variety of issues to be resolved, such as engineering comments, which request a grading plan so that disturbance to critical slopes can be determined.  Concerns also exist regarding ingress and egress to the site.  Engineering staff wants the access for this site shown on Georgetown Road to be eliminated.  Proffers will need to be provided.  The applicant is aware of all of the concerns from staff review. 

 

The Commission discussed staff’s recommendations regarding the rezoning request and provided comments and suggestions to the questions posed in the staff report as follows:

 

  1. What is the appropriate setback for the building?

 

  1. Should the building size be reduced?

 

There was no consensus of the Commission.  The question was how to balance the two.  If the applicant provides less setback along Hydraulic and Georgetown are they causing less grading to occur in the rear?  If they want to bring the building closer to the street, then the Commission’s anticipation is that there will be less grading in the rear.   The following comments were made:

 

    1. Mr. Edgerton wants to see street trees and sidewalks in front of the building.
    2. The ARB wants the building 10’ – 15’ back free of utilities, which may include the sidewalk.  They were looking at a planting, a sidewalk and then the building.
    3. As long as the pedestrians are protected as they walk around the corner of Hydraulic and Georgetown and VDOT and the Service Authority okay the use of their right-of-way for plantings, the Commission has no problems with that aspect.  The applicant should explore the possibility with VDOT and County Engineering about treating the right-of-way at the front of the site as the area for planting and landscaping.  In an attempt to keep the setback being proposed, the applicant needs to look a little closer at locating the proposed parking on the lower level. In looking at the utility issue, the Service Authority needs to be a part of that discussion as well as VDOT. 
    4. The Commission would like to see minimal grading in the rear.
    5. The Commission asked if the applicant could accommodate these restrictions and still maintain the size of the building and the number of parking spaces.
    6. The Commission asked that the parking for the adjacent property be left out of the forested area.  The parking should be minimized. 
    7. The Commission felt that if removing the lower level parking meant the building size had to be adjusted because of the parking requirements, then that is what the Commission would expect.
    8. The Commission suggested the applicant take the discussion from this meeting and figure out how to make the location and building size work on the site.

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